The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, has claimed that it launched three separate operations in recent months with various other Syrian rebel groups, including Islamist units and the Free Syrian Army. In one of the attacks in Idlib, more than 2,000 fighters from seven different units participated in a two-week siege that resulted in the overrunning of several military camps.
The claims were made in a series of statements that were released on jihadist Internet forums on July 21 and July 29. The statements were obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The largest joint operation took place in the countryside in Idlib province between May 8 and May 22. The Al Nusrah Front claimed that “2,000 fully-equipped mujahideen” from eight different “brigades” fielded “8 tanks, a BMP armored vehicle,” and an assortment of mortars, rockets, machine guns, and other heavy weapons.
In addition to the Al Nusrah Front, the other seven Syrian rebel units that participated in the attack were: Liwa al Tawhid, or Unity Brigade, a large Free Syrian Army unit; Ahrar al Shimal, a unit within the Liwa al Tawhid; Ahrar al Sham, a large Islamist unit that often fights alongside the Al Nusrah Front; Suqur al Sham; a Free Syrian Army unit in Idlib; Liwa al Hurriya, another Free Syrian Army formation; Liwa al Haq; Deraa al Thawra; and Deraa al Jabal.
The Al Nusrah Front explained that it decided to assist the Syrian rebel units after they failed to take control of the camps despite laying siege to the area for more than three months. The Syrian military units and government-backed irregular forces were defeated on May 22, the Al Nusrah Front claimed.
The al Qaeda-linked terror group also said that in another attack, on June 14, it worked with four other rebel groups to overrun “the Military Housing Foundation” in Idlib. During that operation, the Al Nusrah Front partnered with the Ahrar al Sham, Liwa al Tawhid, Ahrar al Shimal, and Liwa al Haq.
And in yet another attack, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it partnered with four other groups against “the brigades of transportation and armament in northern Deraa on the outskirtsof the city of Basra al Harir.” The fighting began on July 27 and ended on July 29 after they gained “full control over the two brigades” and seized “all the weapons and equipment inside, such as anti-aircraft, armored vehicles, light weapons, ammunition” and other items.
Also fighting against the Syrian military during the recent operation in Basra al Harir were: Liwa’ al Haramein, a unit in the Ahrar al Sham; al Qadisiyya Islamic Battalion, a Free Syrian Army unit; a group called Ansar al Sunnah, which is known to operate in Deraa; and the Islamic Jerusalem Brigade.
Previous joint operations by the Al Nusrah Front
The Al Nusrah Front, which this spring publicly joined al Qaeda and swore allegiance to its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri, often conducts joint operations with Free Syrian Army units and other Islamist brigades fighting in Syria. Currently, in northern Syria, the Al Nusrah Front has teamed up with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, another al Qaeda affiliate; Ahrar al Sham; the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade, which is backed by the government of Qatar; and the Islamic Kurdish Front, to battle Kurdish forces allied with the PKK.
There have been numerous other instances in which the Al Nusrah Front has aligned itself with other Syrian groups in both military and non-military operations. A year ago, in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front said it launched a joint operation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions [Al Sahaba Battalion] against a police station in Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus.
Additionally, in August 2012, the Al Nusrah Front imposed sharia, or Islamic Law, in conjunction with the Tawhid Brigade and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade in Aleppo.
In October 2012, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it commanded elements of the Al Fajr [Dawn] Islamic Brigade, a known Free Syrian Army unit, as well as “Chechens,” likely from the Muhajireen Brigade, during an assault on a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo.
In November 2012, the Al Nusrah Front entered into an alliance with the Al Fajr Islamic Brigade and 12 other groups in Aleppo to establish an Islamic state.
More recently, in March, the Al Nusrah Front fought alongside the Ahrar al Sham Brigade to take control of the city of Raqqah, and then formed the “Sharia Committee for the Eastern Region” to impose and enforce Islamic law in the city and in other towns.
And in April, the Al Nusrah Front said it conducted a suicide assault with the help of the Nasser Salahuddin Brigade, and conventional attacks with the help of Dera’ al Assima, Liwa al Habib al Mustafa, and Liwa’ al Tawhid brigades, three Free Syrian Army units in Damascus.